Closure of GBV shelters is leaving refugee survivors in pain

By Sabir Musa

By Sabir Musa

Continued fighting in South Sudan forced Ms Aduk not her real name for the sensitivity of the case, 45, together with her family to flee to Uganda in 2016.

They are one of over 10,000 South Sudanese refugees who managed to cross the border and enter Uganda.

Upon arrival, the family of 5 children, Ms Aduk and her husband were registered and settled at Ofua III zone in Uriama Sub County of Terego District, an extension of Rhino Refugee Settlement.

Temporary houses constructed in Ofua III zone of Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement for refugees from South Sudan. Photo by Sabir Musa

Refugee settlements are temporary facilities created to provide protection and assistance to people like Ms Aduk who are forced to flee their country as a result of war. But here, she is having sleepless nights due to continuous threats from her husband with whom they share the same house. 

This made her become a regular visitor at Refugee Welfare Council’s (RWC) office to report cases of domestic violence and seek advice.

“Since I came here, I have been suffering in the hands of my husband. He sometimes denies me food distributed to refugee families (ration) and sells them-off to drink” Ms Aduk narrates. 

Her case has repeatedly been transferred to the zone’s police post by the Refugee Welfare Council Chairperson but to no conclusion. She has never regained the peace at home although her husband is sometimes engaged in dialogue by camp authorities.

Cases like that of Aduk could easily and specially be handled when Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement had a Gender Based Violence (GBV) shelter established through Public-Private partnership (managed by Care International in Uganda). But the shelter was closed due to COVID-19 lockdown.

GBV shelters are part of the referral system that provide victims and survivors with temporary refuge, lodging and other services and link them to medical, legal, economic and psychosocial services.

Recently, Ms Aduk was advised by police to leave her home and seek refuge in another area as the only GBV Shelter set-up in Odobu zone remains closed.

“He has become too violent; threw my clothes in the latrine and chased me out of home. I now stay in Zone 2 while all my children stay with different people” the mother of five children of school going-age shares, as tears roll down her face. 

28 year old mother of 4 children sharing her experience in an interview from office of RWC

Ms Aduk’s story represents similar stories of women in the refugee settlement and many others in the host communities who have nowhere to go since the GBV shelter remains closed, but they continue to suffer in the same houses shared with their violent husbands.

Florenece, not real name, (28), a mother of 4 children in Rhino settlement still feels the pain inflicted on her years ago on her right hip. The right hip pain emanates from her husband assaulting her while he was under the influence of alcohol.

Despite the continued assault, Florence live with her husband but fears for her life. 

“We were fine on arrival together as a family but this suddenly changed.  He beats me regularly and misuse the only available money to drink and watch soccer,” the young-looking mother of 4 children narrates her experience.

Survivors of Gender Based Violence in Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement want the shelter reopened to help them cope with bad relationships. 

Meanwhile, closure of the GBV shelter has shifted the burden of handling such cases to local leaders. The work load comes in mediating between couples of families involved in domestic violence, sensitizing community and referring some of the cases to police.

Mr. Eresto Luate is a Community Development Worker (CDW) in the settlement under Danish Refugee Council (DRC). He manages among others Gender Based Violence in the community. 

The Community Development Worker CDW), Eresto Luate who is a front liner in managing GBV cases in Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement explaining how they are struggling to manage the cases. Photo by Sabir Musa

“We are able to solve some of the cases registered like domestic violence by counseling in which we involve church and community leaders,” he says.

Eresto also confirms that cases of GBV in the settlement increased during the period of Corona virus as Ofua Zone III alone registers 3 to 5 cases weekly and he attributes this to drug abuse and cut in the relief food ration by United Nations’ World Food Program. 

The Secretary in office of the Refugee Welfare Council, Mr. Isaac Abayi who is also a block leader in the settlement acknowledges that there are numerous challenges faced in addressing the case. 

“The ones we can handle we handle but when we cannot, we refer to police. If the ones we refer to police is also brought back to us, sometimes the cases confuse,” Mr Abayi says.

Last year in May, CARE International in Uganda conducted a research titled: COVID-19 RAPID GENDER ANALYSIS in some specific settlements, districts and municipalities in Northern Uganda to explore impacts of the pandemic.

It reveals that, the restriction of movement during lockdown and diversion of GBV resources to COVID-19 response did not only lead to rise in GBV cases but reducing help and support for survivors.

UN says, a total of thirteen GBV Shelters were established in Uganda to help victims and survivors of GBV in the different settlement, but basing on experience gathered, there is need to establish more and keep them operational. 

This Story was produced with support from WAN-IFRA Women in News under the Social Impact Reporting Initiative Programme 

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